Language: Catalan

Blog Editors’ Highlights: Spring 2017

Dive into our Spring Issue, starting with an Italian short story, Assamese poetry, and Catalan drama!

Here at the Asymptote blog, we’re mining the new Spring 2017 Issue for all its treasures and have selected a few our favorite pieces to introduce here. And while we’re making introductions, I’m pleased to present two new members of the Asymptote team, Assistant Blog Editors Stefan and Sneha, who will have much more content and expertise to share in the coming months. For now, enjoy our highlights from the new issue! 

‘A Dhow Crosses the Sea’ by Ubah Cristina Ali Farah, translated from the Italian by Hope Campbell Gustafson, is a story that rises and falls from dreams to the visceral reality of the author’s roots in Somalia and Italy. Between dreams of the protagonist’s grandmother, an ecological disaster, and a capsizing dhow (a type of traditional sailing vessel), the sea is at the very heart of the narrative, its significance alternating between loss and attachment, hope and tragedy. Farah’s blending of Somali oral tradition into her writing also gives an incantatory quality to the work, wrapping you up in its sounds and smells. Those few lines from Somali, “a dhow crosses the sea, carrying incense and myrrh,” have stayed with me, sweet and comforting on the one hand, but on the other filled with an inescapable sense of danger and apprehension.”

—Assistant Blog Editor Stefan Kielbasiewicz

“Of all the uniquely special pieces in the Spring Issue brought to you by the Asymptote staff, Sananta Tanty’s poems spoke the most to me, not least because the poems were originally written in Assamese, my first language.

The fact that the poems are by an Assamese poet is significant. As you might be aware, Assam is the major language spoken in the Northeast Indian state of Assam. The region is widely regarded to have a distinct social and cultural identity compared to ‘mainstream’ India. These differences have unfortunately led to its neglect by the power centres of mainstream India, and the region has been marked by ethnic strife, political conflict, and insurgencies against the Indian state since Independence from the erstwhile British Empire. Highlighting Assamese poetry probes the fault-lines of marginality, underwriting that, even as Indian literature has been a recurring focus of the journal in an attempt to break away from the Western canon, engagement with identity politics requires constant reflection and self-reflexivity.

It is also important to note that the poet was born to a family of tea plantation workers. Assam is known around the world for tea, a legacy of British colonialism. Unfortunately the tea gardens are notorious to this day for deep class divides between the upper management and the manual labourers who were drawn from Central Indian tribal communities to work in the estates by the British tea planters in conditions many argue are akin to slavery.  Tanty, a name carrying the history of his working class background, thus writes a poetry of protest against the indignities of the conditions of his community’s existence: “All twelve men were landless and without independence”. Tanty’s modernist verse is brought out in all its sparkling clarity by the translator, Dibyajoti Sarma, who is a poet and has written introspective pieces on the politics of representing literature from Northeast India in the Indian publishing industry. You can read more of Tanty’s work in the book Selected Poems Sananta Tanty, translated to English by Dibyajoti Sarma. You can also have a look at Sameer Tanti’s poems (translated by Sarma) for similar themes.”

—Assistant Blog Editor Sneha Khaund

“The excerpt from Beth Escudé i Gallès’s Diabolic Cabaret, translated by Phyllis Zatlin, made me so excited. I realize that is probably a bizarre thing to say about a rather absurd, darkly comic work of social commentary, but I couldn’t help but imagine some of my theater friends from college working on this in the basement of a dorm in preparation for an amateur production that we would have imbued with overblown significance and that uniquely naïve brand of activism that can only flourish in a walled-off university setting. It might have turned out decently and not remotely done justice to the script.

So that’s not to say there is anything naïve or amateurish about the play in the least. It’s only to say that reading the excerpt was an experience I’m sure you’ve all had: a spark of joy, perhaps even bringing you to a giggle, that is completely incongruous with the tone of what you’re reading, but that’s a result of being surprised and tickled by how incredibly good it is. Which, though I’m sure it wasn’t the reason for the title, makes calling it a cabaret more than apt. Part corrective history, part satire, and part poignant, confessional monologue, this piece of the Diabolic Cabaret was not enough for me. Here’s hoping the entire play gets staged, and published, in English very soon.”

—Blog Editor Madeline Jones

 *****

Read More About Translation and International Literature on the Blog:

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of “Miss Keaton and Other Beasts” by Teresa Colom

"Death had been tempted by the idea of being a mother for centuries."

Death can arrive at any moment and for one anonymous woman it came when she’d been gestating a fetus for six months. Her shrouded body ended up tossed into a mass grave in a random cemetery. As a compassionate priest devoted a few words to her out of the goodness of his heart, the gravedigger covered her body with dirt. No one claimed or identified the cadaver, and the few folks who noticed her obvious pregnancy assumed that the baby had died along with its mother.

However that wasn’t the case. The fetus continued to nourish itself on her inert body and, just as blackness was about to envelop its incipient existence, the only power able to change its inevitable fate intervened. Death. Death itself, whose job was to carry off designated souls without a second thought, fixed her eye on that small creature.  READ MORE…

My 2015 as a BTBA Judge, and Reading Resolutions for 2016

Asked to review my year in reading and from it form reading resolutions, my immediate response is something I need to call an excited sigh.

Asked to review my year in reading and from it form reading resolutions, my immediate response is something I need to call an excited sigh. For months now, as a judge for the Best Translated Book Award, all I’ve read are eligible books, books published in the US translated for the first time this year. Yet, there were a few months before that reading took over. For years now, I’ve taken pleasure in not being partway through any books when the new year begins, so as to open each year fresh. This year, Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov’s The Golden Calf (trans. Helen Anderson and Konstantin Gurevich) made for a great New Year’s Day read. (To call it fitting, however, would be a lie.) The novel is hysterical, absurd, and clever, fueled by ambitious and clueless characters, fleeing and bumbling in pursuit of fortune.

Taking advantage of a bitter winter, I read the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy from Javier Marias (trans. Margaret Jull Costa). It is rare for a project so vast to also be unflagging in both its entertainment and ability to find new shades and twists for its ideas: of cultural memories, of what it is to read another human being, of violence and intimacy. But this trilogy accomplishes it. From it alone, I could pluck a number of examples of one of my favorite narrative tricks: to make a scene continue endlessly through digression after digression. Unlike any other art form, the novel is thus able to manipulate the experience of time, both of the readers’ and the characters’.

But yes, this year has been a culmination of reading more and more books the year they’re published. The best way I can think about it is by describing the books that stand out in little, meaningful ways. Starting with where I live, in Vermont, so close to Montreal, Quebec literature has had much of my affection this year. Not just the translations, like the Raymond Bock and Samuel Archibald story collections Atavisms (trans. Pablo Strauss) and Arvida (trans. Donald Winkler)­—so similar in their arc as collections and interest in familial depths but with different approaches and destinations—but also classics like the narratively unsettled Kamouraska (trans. Norman Shapiro). Anne Hébert’s novel is as much a story of a women trapped by culture and time, and her murder plot, as it is a stylistic achievement, melding aesthetic with the narrator’s psychology. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: from All that Died Among the Bicycles that Day by Llucia Ramis

We’ve been looking at black and white photos of places that no longer exist and of children who are no longer children.

This isn’t autobiography.

All the World’s Men

Every Thursday, my father has lunch with la abuela at her house in Palma.

We bought a roast chicken and la abuela explained that they’d been feeding them fishmeal for a while now. That’s why they tasted that way, and why the eggs tasted fishy, too. And years before that they would deliver live chickens straight from the farm, from Felanitx.

Once, one of her children told la abuela about another animal in the basket, but she didn’t pay it any mind. She left the large crate in the walkway for two days until the stench became unbearable. Only then did she go look, and sure enough, there alongside the chicken was a dead rabbit swarmed by flies. They delivered them dead like that because if not, they’d piss all over. The household maintained a certain aversion to rabbits from that day on.

“Not only that, but you also had to boil it to make sure it was still good. Back then you boiled everything just in case,” my father said.

“In those days, entonses, they said it wasn’t good to eat the chicken skin, it’d give you some kind of sickness, a terrible stomachache or something like that,” la abuela explained.

And my father says: “They’d say you’d turn into a maricón.” READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “The Port” by Llucia Ramis Laloux

Flies, crashes, and playing house: growing up is a disturbing process in Llucia Ramis's new Catalan-language story

One

I remember a hedgehog devoured by ants; we found it near the house and wanted to feed it milk from the tetra-brik carton. It was dead by morning. I remember my brother wanted to taste an ant because the Chinese eat them, so he put it in his mouth while it was still alive and spit it out because it stung. I remember my cousin pulled out a dock tire at the pier and that a crab jumped out, she got scared and let go and it crushed the crab, it pushed the guts right out through its mouth, sprtz. Afterward we hurled the body into the water and it floated. I remember the time I picked up a log and pinched a lizard hiding underneath; I could swear it cried out. We spent some time observing that detached tail, my cousin, brother, and I.

I don’t come here often and these memories have nothing to do with nostalgia.

READ MORE…